A Gray View of Plastic

Photo: Stockfresh

I try to view issues in shades of black and white. Gray areas are for non-opinionated people. When it comes to plastic, I’m solidly in the gray. I’m glad I live in a plastic coated world. I wear plastic clothes and fish with plastic lures. My sandwich stays fresh in a plastic bag; my boat’s engine wouldn’t run without plastic parts. That’s the white side of the issue.

The black side is the long-indoctrinated mindset against anything “petro-chemical.” When’s the last time you heard anything positive about the oil industry? Good or bad, the oil industry and the plastic industry is going to be a permanent fixture in this world for the foreseeable future. There’s no substitute for either.

The blackest area for me is not the fact plastic is made from crude oil or the plastic itself in the fishing lure or in the Diet Coke bottles in my plastic cooler that is the problem. It’s the lost or ruined lure and the empty Coke bottle. They won’t go away. They last forever, or at least for what forever means to me and my kids.

I don’t like landfills but just as mines, giant farms, superhighways and drainage ditches are a necessary evil of modern society, so are trash dumps. If every scrap of used plastic ended up in a landfill (especially after being recycled a few times) my black and white attitude about the stuff would become more gray.

But it doesn’t and that’s highlighted by statistics generated by the Alliance for the Great Lakes. The AGL sponsored 900 beach cleanups throughout the Great Lakes in 2017. During these clean-ups, 89 percent of the material picked up was partially or fully comprised of plastic. Worse, plastic water bottles and tee-shirt bags (the micro-thin bags doled out by the millions at checkout counters) were always in the top 10 types of collected debris at each clean-up.

What really blackens my attitude is 1) neither of these items are more than just a convenience item to humans and 2) it seems as though only government action has any affect on how much these are used and disposed of properly.

There’s a direct link between the prevalence of water bottles today and environmental activism decades ago. My generation was besieged by environmental prophets claiming doom for humanity due to the lack of safe drinking water. Obviously, there are still areas and threats to water sources, but back in the day – and it still lingers – many people consider tap water, especially drinking tap water, as hazardous.

As a result, the bottled water industry grew from nearly nothing to a multi-billion dollar industry fueled by two things – mass hysteria and cheap plastic water bottles. Most of the water in the bottles comes from the same sources people get their tap water. With few exceptions, there are few places in the United States where bottled water is more a necessity than a convenience. Apparently, it’s more convenient to buy a case of bottled water, take a drink and toss the bottle than to lug around a water jug or canteen.

TEE SHIRT BAGS

One source I found on the Internet (so it has to be true) said “the average tee shirt bag is used for for only twelve minutes from the time it leaves the store to the time what’s in the bag is removed.” I live in the country, so my trip from the store is longer – but even if the stat is off by 100%, a 24 minute useful life – compared with a thousand year afterlife (another Internet statistic) is an eye opener.

People are trying to come up with solutions. So far, non-governmental solutions have proven to be somewhat ineffective. Mostly, it’s the convenience factor. Many places don’t offer the “paper or plastic” option so it’s plastic or bringing your own, reusable bags.

One study shows forgetfulness is a part of the culprit and claims a simple decal positioned on or inside a car reminding the car owner to bring and use reusable bags is impactful.

Some businesses offer incentives. The supermarket I shop offers a nickle off my bill for each reusable bag they fill with my groceries. In an admittedly unscientific observation, I see dozens or more plastic bags going out the door than groceries in reusable sacks.

State and local governments, ever ready to find good excuses to suck more money from the citizenry, have enacted bag-taxes to curb the proliferation of single-use plastic bags. Chicago charges seven cents per bag. The city claims that’s lead to a 40% reduction.

California passed a similar statewide law totally banning tee-shirt sacks resulting, they claim, in a drop by more than half in these bags at their beach clean-ups. In California, stores are allowed to put merchandise in heavier gauge bags for a 17 cent per bag fee – payable to the state.

Hawaii simply banned tee-shirt bags. No government taxes involved.

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